ninja 250

How Confidence Affects Women and Motorcycling

Me, feeling supremely confident on my '12 Street Triple R. But it wasn't always that way.

Me, feeling supremely confident on my '12 Street Triple R. But it wasn't always that way.

Learning to ride a motorcycle is certainly about confidence. The majority of mine came from learning to ride the right bikes and increasing my skillset dramatically from bike to bike.

But there was always a small chunk of it that came from me telling myself that I could and "eff it". If something happens, I'll deal with it or call for help or whatever. I'm not going to be afraid of it anymore.

But keep in mind, that absolutely has to be within reason like when I decided to take the Ninja 250 to work instead of my scooter. I just went the 40 minute route to work (avoiding busy thoroughfares like Van Ness Avenue and Steep ass hills like Gough Street). I had already been commuting on my scooter to work for a year. This wasn't a huge jump from what I had already been doing. It was totally realistic given my experience and what I had been doing previously.

Me in 2006 on my first "long" ride outside of San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, a whopping 50 minutes one way!

Me in 2006 on my first "long" ride outside of San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, a whopping 50 minutes one way!

This article says what I've witnessed and experienced personally in my 15 years of riding and helping other women learn to ride and talking to them about riding. And certainly my work life too. Why aren't we as confident from the get go? What is it about many of us (not all, I know, but more than most I'm sure) that holds us back from succeeding other than some of the most common mistakes new riders make ?

When all of our ducks are in a row, we still feel like we don't deserve it or are that good. I still feel like I'm terrible at riding at times. I'm terrible at nailing my lines every time I go riding, I'm terrible at braking. I'm terrible at cornering. I mean, okay I'm not horrific in that I crash every time I ride, but when I do go out I'm constantly critiquing myself and trying to figure out what I could've done better to take that particular corner better/faster/smoother. Is that just a regular aspect of riding? I'm guessing many of my male readers are going to argue that "of course, I think that too".

But how many of you think that way in your everyday life as many women have experienced per this article?

Riding as many of us know is 90% mental, 10% physical (that's why YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE ABLE TO PICK UP YOUR MOTORCYCLE to ride it).

I recently joined this cool interactive panel of my fellow women riders about how we got into riding and some of the barriers we ran into along the way. There are some really great tips and advice here that I think many of you can relate to:

https://www.cake.co/conversations/HKn99Mb/a-panel-of-women-who-motorcycle-what-it-s-like-in-a-sport-with-a-bad-boy-vibe

So if something is holding you back, what do you think that is?

Learning to Ride Can Be Really F*cking Hard. But It Doesn't Have To Be.

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Learning to ride is something that takes more than a few days/weeks/months. It's 15 years later and I'm *still* learning.

Imagine learning to drive a car for the first time and your mom/dad offers you:

  • Honda Civic 2 Door
  • Chevy Suburban 

Yes, you could theoretically learn on both but which one is going to give you more confidence, self esteem and increase your driving skills? Most of the time when I've thrown a leg over a new bike (either mine or borrowed) I've gone in with some self confidence and some actual riding ability. But riding ability alone isn't enough for me to ride something I've never ridden before. I need the confidence too. I need to feel like I can do it because if I don't, I won't even try. 

I've been getting a lot of questions lately from new riders or potential new ones and I wanted to repeat what I've been telling them here. I know not everyone's experience is the same, but I can guarantee you that learning to crawl before you walk makes a HUGE difference. But ask anyone who started on a small displacement motorcycle or scooter before moving up to a 600cc-1000cc-1500cc option how much they learned. Too much? Not enough? Why or why not? 

Think of learning how to ride this way: 

  • 200-500cc: man, this is a lot easier than I thought. I kick ass. I'm getting the hang of this. 
  • 600-1000cc: shit, this is a lot harder than I thought. I suck at this. I never should've bought a motorcycle.

When my husband took this photo of me back in 2004, we just took our new Ninja 250 for a spin (because that was the *only* small sportbike/naked sporty you could buy in the US) and he basically taught me how to shift up to 2nd and 3rd. I rode around the parking lot a bit to see what it was like. My MSF class was the following month. I never took it on the street, I just did a few laps, nothing special.   

Me in the Presidio Parking Lot, San Francisco. We didn't have iPhones back then, but we did have Motorola flip phones :0

Me in the Presidio Parking Lot, San Francisco. We didn't have iPhones back then, but we did have Motorola flip phones :0

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But before all this motorcycle business, I rode my awesome 50cc 2Stroke Aprilia Scarabeo Scooter. 

I rode her A LOT in my first year of riding (Sept 2003 - Sept 2004). 3,599 miles all in San Francisco to be exact. 

I loved her for the short time I had her. But as soon as I threw a leg over the Ninja (it was his but I needed something to ride so....) I knew it was meant to be. And I figured out how to ride her to work (across San Francisco) in a couple days. 

If you see my pic above on the Ninja, I'm on my toes. Did I care? Nope. Because I was already riding my scooter on my toes. 

2006 Kawasaki Z750S

2006 Kawasaki Z750S

Contrary to popular belief, scooters can be a lot taller than most motorcycles. The Scarabeo had a 30" seat height. But my learning curve was far far less steep than if I forced myself to throw a leg over something like my next bike, the Kawasaki Z750S for the first time (instead of the Ninja). It was taller, heavier, taller and heavier. Did I mention how much heavier it was? Almost 500lbs wet. Ugh.

2003 Suzuki SV650S

2003 Suzuki SV650S

The higher center of gravity on this thing would've been ridiculous. If I had to learn on this or even my SV, I doubt I would've had the skill to move up. 

When I chose that Z750S, it set me back 3 years in my riding development. Everything was suddenly harder: parking, cornering (imagine driving a tall, heavy truck on a twisty road instead of a convertible), uturns. The only thing that was easier was accelerating on the freeway merging into traffic.  

For perspective, this is how much that bike choice affected my riding. This list is in order of when I owned each one and how much I rode them::

  1. Aprilia 50cc Scooter: 3,599 miles in 1 YEAR. woooo hooo! I'm ready to move up. 
  2. Kawasaki Ninja 250: 12,000 miles in 3 years. I learned so much and did a mix of city and highway riding/touring for the first time.
  3. Kawasaki Z750S: a little under 8,000 miles in 3 years. Some city riding, and a couple of long distance rides to LA from San Francisco. But riding the twisties? Forget it. It was annoying, hard, not fun and I was miserable. 
  4. Suzuki SV650S: 6,000 miles in the first 8 MONTHS. YESSSSSS. Where were you all my life? Why didn't I buy you sooner? Ahhh, this is how you corner. That's what it feels like to actually lean. You were so much easier to park and maneuver in San Francisco. And you were WAY MORE FUN to ride. 

Remember, riding is supposed to be FUN! Not stressful, not frustrating and not miserable. When you get off that bike you might be in a little pain from the seat time but you should be HAPPPPPPPY. Ask yourself these questions:

How do you feel when you look at your bike, or think about riding it? How do you feel after? Confident? Excited? 

As soon as I bought the SV, my learning curve flattened and it was so much easier to ride. So much so that I rode it everywhere/everyday/constantly. I learned so much in that first year and felt like it should've been my second motorcycle. This is a photo of the first "curve" I ever took on the SV when my seller delivered it to my house (from 300 miles away, there are still GOOD people left in this world!). It doesn't look like much but just taking this little bend, I felt a huge difference in what I had been missing for the last 3 years. I felt confident, happy, excited, and most of all HAPPY

All I learned on my Z750S was how to manage a taller, heavier bike. But it didn't teach me anything about advanced cornering techniques. Improper cornering is an extremely common factor in solo motorcycle accidents aside from DUI. I firmly believe that It doesn't matter how long you've been riding, it matters how well you can ride. 

Your bike choice will greatly impact how well, how much, how confidently you ride for the next 6-12 months. So make the EASY choice that benefits you in the long run. 

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Because are you planning to ride the same bike for 50 years? Not me..... I'm 3 years in and will probably get itchy in a couple :D

A quick caveat to this post. Learning to ride isn't easy like taking a bite out of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. But you can lighten the load a bit and bring down the level of difficulty down from a 10 to a 5. Struggling is definitely part of the experience and you will learn through your mistakes because you have to in order to learn. But when it's so hard that it starts to make you question your ability to ride or the decision to ride in the first place, then it's time to rethink some things. I hope this post does just that, helping you rethink some things. Please post a comment or two below.... 

Getting Old SUCKS. Bad Feet, Shoulders and Vertigo.

February 2006. My first motorcycle trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on my trusty Ninja 250. 

February 2006. My first motorcycle trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on my trusty Ninja 250. 

It's been a painful last couple of months. Haven't been riding much and I feel completely out of it. 

A couple months ago I decided to visit a Podiatrist to see about my left foot. I have this painful bump on the top of my foot which I thought was a bunion. Nope, turns out it's probably a ganglion cyst. And turns out I have terrible foot issues that cause me to walk uneven and as a result puts undue pressure on the nerve inside the ganglion cyst. I also have a really high instep so that's not making the situation any better. It's already hard for me to find shoes to fit my feet into, let alone additional pressure on the top of my foot that makes it feel even worse.

Generally, I have to find shoes that aren't too tight around my ankles because of this. 

Good times. This makes wearing my motorcycle boots for 10+ hours a day difficult unless I wear them really really loose which isn't going to work either. So I did a little bit of physical therapy for my foot which has helped a bit, but hasn't completely resolved the cyst issue. I think I need to go back to the Podiatrist soon. 

Next on the list, is my right shoulder. I went to the Ortho the other day and I likely have Bursitis. I haven't done any long rides recently but it's hard to say whether it'll be affected by that. I basically need to keep working on strengthening my shoulder muscles (which I've been working on for almost 5 months now with Crossfit. LOVE IT. Shoutout to Fearless in Philly!) I'll probably need physical therapy too. 

Ok, what else? Oh doh, the main reason I wasn't riding last month is because I had a terrible case of Vertigo. Turns out my blood pressure is so low (~95-100/70) that it caused dizziness and lightheadedness. It took a few weeks, but my head finally came back to normal. The weather was pristine here in Philly too (low 70s) and I totally missed it. Now we're into high 50s, low 60s but I still want to try and go riding this weekend. 

I had several issues with dizzyness/lightheadedness in the past 5-7 years where I would feel that way for 2-3 weeks at a time and I never figured out what it was. My blood pressure has always read below ~120 so I suspect this is it. The solution per my doctor is drink lots of water (which I'm doing, going through about 60oz every day) and more salt in my diet! I'm totally ok with that, because I have a Savory Tooth. 

Chili Cheese Fries at  Tony Lukes . Their cheesesteaks are amazing too!

Chili Cheese Fries at Tony Lukes. Their cheesesteaks are amazing too!

QnA: How Do You Handle the Weight of Your Bike?

A woman rider asked me recently about how do handle the weight of her bike as a new rider.  Initially, she had questions about the Daytona Lady Stars, and whether they would help her get both feet down comfortably on a Ninja 250. When I do wear my Daytonas (but not all the time), they only allow me to have both balls of my feet on the ground. So most of the time I use one flat left.

2012_triumph_street_tripleR

"So with the boots, I'm able to put a foot down. How do you handle the weight of the bike? I meant like when you're parking or in situation where you need both feet to roll the bike?" - Mango 

I'm assuming that you can get almost one flat left or a full flat left down. If this is the case, then you will always, always keep your right on the rear brake for stability, no matter what. As long as your right foot is on the brake, your bike won't go anywhere.

Continue to practice braking as perfectly Smooth as you can. Pretend you're entering a contest for the best braking technique and the grand prize is going to be a million dollars. The only way you're going to balance the motorcycle without dropping it is really finessing and perfecting your braking so you don't stop and release too soon or grab all at once.

As far as parking, get off the bike. There's nothing wrong with having to park the bike while walking next to it. In fact, if I never did this I wouldn't be riding my motorcycle today because I can't park unless the pavement is completely flat. If there's even a slight slope I always get off and park. Most of the time I find it faster and a lot easier to manage. When you do park, lean the tank on your hip and walk the bike backwards. I have a blog post here that shows what I mean with a few pictures.

Keep practicing, and try not to think about what others will think or say or do. It's all about You riding your motorcycle, not them.